Learning Needs a Cool Factor

Current influences:

  • As I’ve recently written, I’m in the flow of the start-of-school mindset right now by virtue of how I’ve chosen to spend my time lately. Luckily my children find me more amusing than embarrassing, and they introduce me to many of their friends; most of whom are students too.
  • Financing college for both my children is a sizable effort (one I am quite happy to make), and as you can imagine, I want them to get the most of their collegiate experience. I talk to them about it – a lot.
  • I am asked to speak on Managing with Aloha on different school campuses in Hawaii fairly frequently, and it gives me numerous encounters with students who are engaged, and others who, well, are not.

All these things taken together I’ve noticed something. Something which both saddens and alarms me.

Thankfully, there are exceptions, but for too many of them, as far as our school-bound youth is concerned, there is no cool factor connected to learning, at least not the ‘learning’ they do in the school environment. On the contrary, learning has become synonymous with work, and not work of the MWA genre, the ‘work’ of the 4-letter word variety” junk, hard, a bore and yuck.

When I tell college students that I actually get a bit jealous of them, and sometimes wish I could be back in college again alongside them (very true; I say it with complete sincerity) they look at me as if I am totally clueless and in some La La Land where ignorance must be bliss.

Case in point: I’ve discovered that one of the most popular urls for college students at this time of year is www.rateyourprofessor.com, a site where they can get the skinny on which professors will make their course choice as painless as possible.

Good grief.

I have been hoping Thomas L. Friedman is wrong, and that our educational system is not broken (as he writes of so eloquently – and gloomily – in The World is Flat).

What can we be doing to improve on this sorry state of affairs? If you have children, you can never start too early, instilling them with an insatiable curiosity about themselves, their capacity, the world around them, and all the people in it. Understand you can’t be with them all the time, and they’ve got to eventually discover how to do this for themselves —the quicker the better. Meanwhile, they’ve got to get infected by your learning enthusiasm often enough to offset the other opposing factors which may be at play in their lives.

You’ve got to help them find a Learning Cool Factor.

We passionately promote reading here, normally celebrating books and the learning environment they create, but fact is, reading books isn’t enough. And there are factors working against our best efforts. I am as voracious a reader as you’ll find, and when I compare the books my kids are required to read for school with the books that I gobble up by the dozens, I shake my head, start groaning, and think “Yuck!” too. I am beginning to cringe each time I hear the phrase, “core curriculum” to describe the texts on their must-purchase booklists. They are the polar opposite of every good thing we discover about setting the tone for positive, optimistic, vibrantly exciting environments nourished by the love of reading.

I used to think there was no such thing as a bad book, but now I wonder…

It doesn’t help that books get equated to debt (another 4-letter word”) in growing college loans for our youth when just one book can cost $56 for a dated, used copy in paperback! (See The Price of Schoolbooks- One Option)

I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is on this; consider using MWA for your basic fundamentals in management courses. If you are a teacher who can use it, email me with a copy of your class syllabus, and I’ll have Ho‘ohana Publishing sell the book to you, your school and your students at wholesale.

I’ve got a pretty good grasp on who the readers of this blog are, and I’d wager to say that most of you reading these words do love learning, and you have identified your own cool factor connected with it. As adult learners we eventually arrive here, falling in love with learning in our growing understanding of how it empowers us, and how it can transform us. However when we think back to our own days in school, we can easily empathize with why our youth can’t come to our same realization any quicker than we did.

We need to do something about it. Talking about the problem is nothing more than commiseration, whining, and moaning if we aren’t part of the solution. Whining doesn’t work for us in our business lives, and it shouldn’t be tolerated in the rest of our lives either.

Let’s help all the parents out there:
Comment here with your experiences, and tell us how you found your cool factor for learning, would you? The rest of the Ho‘ohana Community of readers is waiting to learn from you.

Got a RSS-skim habit? Click in this time, comment, and talk story with us.

The second thing you can do is this:
We have a learning forum coming up, and as you read the different articles offered, a new one for each day in September, look for the cool factor. Question the authors by commenting and talking story with them until their cool factor is totally revealed in your mind’s eye. Then do what you can to duplicate the experience for every young person you know. You will give them no greater gift.

If you catch the students you know on www.rateyourprofessor.com, point them to the influence of Tim Milburn’s stellar student leadership instead: studentl.inc.

Fourth is for you, as you patiently wait for our Joyful Jubilant Learning 2006 Forum . . . Examples of our past learning environments connected to books here on Talking Story:

With Tom Ehrenfeld and The Startup Garden: Get your learning cool factor connected to an entrepreneurial mindset.

With Laurence Haughton and It’s Not What You Say” It’s What You Do: Connect your learning cool factor with the art of follow-up and investing in your own reputation for effective action.

With Managing with Aloha and our Jumpstart Program: Connect your learning cool factor with ‘Ike loa, and the other way-cool concepts of values-based management and the aloha spirit.

When I say that Learning Needs a Cool Factor, I mean that Learning Needs You – To model it brilliantly for every young person you know.


  1. says

    An Environment for Learning

    Let’s say you decide to go back to college.
    This time, you are going to do it on your own terms. Not because you have to, but because you want to. You are older and wiser now, and you have the ability to look back, taking advantage of the fact that h…

  2. says

    Ashamed of our naked skins

    “We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinion, of our experience, just as we are ashamed

  3. says

    I am keenly aware of the resistance that many students have toward learning. It is especially surprising since I see it in the students that I work with on a college campus (they are actually paying to be here!). There are moments where they are in shock that they have to spend so much time reading, learning, and thinking. I think it might be necessary to put a statement on college applications in the near future that says: “You will have to actually read your textbooks and learn the material in order to succeed here.”
    As you note, there is a dark side within this emerging generation’s attitude toward the idea and discipline of lifelong learning. But there is also a bright side. I would offer a few observations:
    a) Most students do like to learn, but it needs to be connected to something else (they haven’t quite bought into the idea of learning for learning’s sake). I’ve seen students flounder in general ed courses and then spring to life once they find themselves in their upper division work toward their major. It’s an age old case of “how will this apply this to anything that I do once I leave college? Will I really NEED this in the REAL world” If student’s don’t see the connection between what they’re learning and real life, they tend to dismiss it easily.
    b) This leads me to another observation. We live in a knowledge/information saturated society. Our students are exposed to so much information growing up that they have to figure out some way of filtering, processing, and establishing what’s important. They have learned to get their information quickly, colorfully, and in easy-to-chew pieces. This effects learning styles, retention, and unfortunately, adds an “entertainment” mentality to learning. Books tend not to be the most thrilling way to get information. Why buy books when I can get the info off the web, or download it to my laptop, or listen to it as a podcast on my IPod?
    3. I think one thing that we need to think about (and you touched on this) is the need to develop learning communities. Our students find so much of their identity based upon the groups that they belong to. If the group defines learning as “cool,” then a student will be much more likely to adopt that perspective as well. Many of us have identified learning as a positive thing from an individualistic perspective. I think that today’s student is much more inclined toward groupthink.
    Where does this leave us?
    -Discover ways to tie learning to the passions and interests of our students (coursework that’s more selective, hands-on, and interactive).
    -Develop new teaching models that incorporate the media tools of this generation (lectures as podcasts, online forums, video & graphics that supplement or, dare I say, supplant written words).
    -If adults want to model learning for students, they must bring something to the table with them when they interact (stories, ideas, ebooks, websites, QUESTIONS) with students. I think there’s nothing wrong with PUSHING students to learn.
    -Simplify. Students are busy. What can we encourage them to take away in order to create more opportunity or SPACE for learning to take place.
    These are just some of my thoughts.

  4. says

    Thank you so much Tim, for with the work you do, you certainly are more in tune with this!
    You bring up a key insight: If we are to place ourselves in the roles of coaches and mentors, we have to raise our own game.
    Reaching others has always meant that we ourselves must be more approachable, and between generations it has always meant that we get challenged to be ‘not-old’ thinkers. Boy do I experience this daily with my kids! Conversations can take the most fascinating twists and turns, and if I’m not up to speed with their communication skills and frame of reference I quickly get sidelined, or they get bored by the game completely and are on to the next thing —without me.
    However I also concur with your words about it being okay, even necessary, to push them toward learning, inserting our influence with coaching and mentorship. What we offer for them IS the answer to that age old question ALL students have (even us ‘adult learners’) and that is, “Why must I learn this?” We have the answers on what their practical life’s applications will be. Blessed, golden context.

  5. says

    I like your ideas about the need to make learning cool, and I think Tim is right to focus on the “packaging and distribution” of learning. In addition, I wonder how much the “timing and pacing” of learning are factors.
    Just a couple of generations ago, learning was not seen as lifelong; it was something for children and young adults. Society frontloaded learning through the institutions of elementary and secondary educaton, which we still rely on today.
    More recently, lifelong learning has been needed, promoted and adopted by much, but not all, of US society. Frontloaded learning is no longer sufficient or acceptable. However, many of us participating in lifelong learning did not realize during our youth that the learning paradigm was changing. We approached college like our parents – thinking that we would gain the bulk of our lifelong academic knowledge within 4-6 years. We didn’t anticipate launching new learning iniatives in our 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
    For today’s youth, the model is different. An undergraduate can be fully aware that they are at an early stage of a lenghty process. This awareness is likely to change behavior. Instead of approaching college as the last chance to soak up knowledge, college students may view it as an institutionalized “right of passage” that is necessary to continue on the path of lifelong learning.
    No doubt there are many factors contributing to the attitudes you discuss. To the extent that teenagers and young adults recognize learning as a marathon, more so than a sprint, their attitudes may reflect the need for pacing learning over an ever-expanding expected lifetime.

  6. says

    You make a good point Blaine, and I share your optimistic view. My desire is that our conversation here will rattle our cages as the movers and shakers we are, so we focus on supporting this evolution.
    In our own generation, we were pretty rebellious, and although our parents held college up as the esteemed high road, many of us took the fork, or opted for a double track: Fresh out of high school we did our learning out of school and on the job. Or, as I unfortunately did, we trimmed as much of the college experience as we could for just the basics of the college bachelor’s degree so we could hit the ground running in our careers. In the case of my high school graduating class, our dads were in VietNam (or protesting it!) and our moms were NOT going to be the second wave of Rosie the Riveters.
    Then, in our zeal to become the “newly savvy parents” of the next generation, we abandoned our school system as we turned our focus elsewhere. As workplace mentors, we actually may have told those at their own crossroads they may not need college at all (at times I admit I did): Choose the right internship, and learn your way through the college of work.
    So now? We have come to the realization that learning can be cool wherever you’re doing it. We also realize we have to support our schools again in a much bigger way than we have: It takes way more than money, it requires our active engagement.
    Aha moments… Thank goodness for the certainty of eventually growing up!

  7. says

    Top posts from 2006

    Well, as the sun has set on 2006, I spent some time looking through the data on what got read the most on my blog last year. I’m always interested to see what topics are the most interesting to the

  8. says

    Didja know that today is Joe D.Cool’s birthday?

    Hau‘oli la hanau to Dwayne Melancon! There are certain birthdays that deserve all my attention; they are my feelin’ the gratitude days. Today is my gratitude day for Dwayne; Hau‘oli la hanau my friend. Dwayne is one of my spirit